In the Shadow of Oscar
Every Oscar season has its anomalies, but the 85th Annual Academy Award nominations have two for the record books. 2013 sees both the oldest Best Actress nominee to date (Emmanuelle Riva, 85) and the youngest (Quvenzhane Wallis, 9). 2013 is also the year with the lowest correlation between the Best Director Oscar nominees and the Directors' Guild of America nominees: a mere 40 percent, two out of five, with only Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee winning nominations from both. I'm not sure that Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper were more (or less) deserving of an Oscar nod than David O. Russell, Michael Haneke or Benh Zeitlin, but the discrepancy does show an unusual lack of critical unanimity. That difference of opinion has been amazingly consistent throughout this year's award season. Does that mean the quality of films in 2012 was unusually high, or that there were no masterpieces--just a lot of pretty good movies that couldn't lift their heads above the competition?
I'm sure critics will argue cogently for both positions. Personally, as someone who only sees the movies he pays to see, I'm not in a position to argue that this year's movies in general were better or worse than that in any other year. I'm not even in a position to draw up a Ten Best list. (As of today, I still haven't seen two of this year's Best Picture nominees--"Zero Dark Thirty" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild.") That being said, I saw quite a few movies this year that I loved, and many more that I liked very much. My favorite film of the year was "Lincoln," which received the most Oscar nominations of any 2012 film and, at least at the moment, seems poised to make a broad sweep of the awards. I wish there had been at least some nominations for "Looper" and "Bernie," and more than just one for "Moonrise Kingdom," all of which I found wonderful. I also wish the Academy could have found space in the Best Actor category for John Hawkes in "The Sessions," conveying astonishing depths of warmth and humanity playing a character rendered completely immobile except for his mind.
Besides the aforementioned movies, I also loved "Argo," "Amour," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Les Miserables," "Monsieur Lazhar," "The Master,"and "The Kid with a Bike." " Not quite as high in my book, but still well worth seeing, were "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," "Anna Karenina," "Django Unchained," "Life of Pi," "Bully," "Hope Springs," "The Dark Knight Rises," "Skyfall," "Seven Psychopaths," and "Coriolanus." These are listed in no particular order, but they are movies I think most audiences would find rewarding.
Besides "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Zero Dark Thirty," I also still haven't seen a number of the past year's blockbusters ("Flight," "The Avengers," "The Hobbit"). If I haven't mentioned a movie you loved (or hated), chances are I haven't seen it. I saw no films in 2012 that I disliked outright (I don't waste my hard-earned money on movies I think I'm going to hate), but I thought "Premium Rush" and "Safe House" could have offered better screenplays to their talented stars, and "To Rome with Love" caught Woody Allen napping under the cypresses of the Borghese Gardens. "The Queen of Versailles" fell in my estimation after its subjects, David and Jacqueline Siegel, did. I wonder whether David Siegel was gutsy (or nasty) enough to make good on his threat to fire most of his employees after President Obama won re-election. But then again, so many tycoons have been punishing their employees for Mitt Romney's electoral loss that it's a wonder the unemployment rate hasn't doubled.